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The Ninth Fort

The Ninth Fort

Today was my last day in Lithuania, and thanks to a late flight home I was able to fulfil one last wish before leaving.

The Ninth Fort might not be on everyone’s list of places to see, but one of my passions, if that’s the right word, is to try and understand what caused the turmoil in Europe during the 20th century. I have always had an interest in the two World Wars as well as the Cold War: The Ninth Fort is one of those places that is uncomfortable to visit, but one that has left a profound effect on me ever since.

I don’t know if things have changed, but at the time I was here there was very little information about the fort and how to get there – certainly not in English.

Even though it’s located on the outskirts of Kaunas at Sargenai, and quite a long bus ride to get there, it wasn’t as difficult to find as I thought it was going to be.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire, and as relations deteriorated with Germany, it was decided to build Kaunas Fortress to protect its western border.

The Ninth Fort was part of this huge complex that surrounded the city covering an area of 25 square miles.

To learn more about the history of the fort there’s a museum housed in a soviet concrete monstrosity, which if they leave it as it is, could become part of the fort’s history itself in years to come.

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Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

Between October 22nd – 28th 1961 the eyes of the world were focused on Checkpoint Charlie, a crossing point between East and West Berlin during the years of the Cold War. A stand-off between American and Soviet tanks could have resulted in quite possibly, WWIII, but both sides had the sense to realise the consequences and serious conflict was avoided.

I’m sure that many of you will know how all this came about, but I think it’s worth repeating anyway.

The background to the drama goes back to the end of WWII when Germany was divided up by the four main countries responsible for its defeat – Britain, France, the United States and the Soviet Union. Although they were united in defeating Nazi Germany, the differences in ideology between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union had been obvious for quite some time. Really, it was just a case of agreeing to disagree while they defeated the common enemy of Nazi Germany.

At the end of the war Germany was divided up into West Germany, (controlled by the Western alliance), and East Germany (controlled by the Soviet Union). Berlin, which was situated deep inside the Soviet sector, was also divided up by the victors into West and East Berlin.

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Glen Etive

Buachaille Etive Mor

Glen Etive

People who visit Glen Coe for the first time will invariably miss a small turning opposite the Kingshouse Hotel, and even if they knew it was there would probably give it a miss anyway, because this narrow single track road comes to a dead end after 14 miles, which means that you have to turn around and come all the way back – so why bother?

The answer is simple – the breathtaking scenery makes it, in my humble opinion, one of the best short scenic drives in Scotland.

As with all scenic drives, it’s best done outside of the peak holiday season. Fans of James Bond come here to see where some of ‘Skyfall’ was filmed, and it’s also popular with kayakers – and of course, climbers and hillwalkers.

Fortunately, when I drove down here one winter’s day, apart from one notable exception, we never saw a soul.

Several streams provide the River Etive with its source on Rannoch Moor, but for most people their acquaintance with it starts at Buachaille Etive Mor, the pyramid shaped mountain at the top of the glen.

The road follows the river down through the valley, at first underneath Buachaille Etive Mor, and then Stob Dubh before widening out as it flows into the head of Loch Etive.  Continue reading

Winchester – The First Capital of England

The River Itchen - Weirs Walk

Winchester - The First Capital of England

If someone were to ask me where to go for that quintessential English experience then Winchester would have to be right up there near the top of my list.

Its location, where the River Itchen flows through the chalk Downs of the Hampshire countryside, helps give this small city of 45,000 people an air of peace and calm that belies its past history and status as Hampshire’s county town.

It was this precise spot, where the river could be forded, that attracted a Celtic tribe from the continent to build a settlement here. The tribe we now call the Belgae arrived around 100BC, but it would appear that their enclosure at Oram’s Arbour and fort at St. Catherine’s Hill had been abandoned by the time the Romans arrived in AD70, who then created a settlement of their own which they called Venta Belgarun (Marketplace of the Belgae).

The river at this point split into two around an island, and although it made for a good crossing point, it was also liable to flooding, and so the Romans diverted the river through a single channel, which not only saved their town from flooding but also gave it an extra line of defence on their eastern flank. The river still flows through this channel and can best be seen on the lovely Weirs Walk.

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Autumn Colours at Westonbirt

Autumn Colours at Westonbirt

Today’s blog is a pictorial one, because sometimes a picture does paint a thousand words, and the National Arboretum at Westonbirt has 15,000 specimen trees to choose from.

Covering 600 acres, the arboretum lies about 3 miles south-west of Tetbury and is located next to Prince Charles and his Highgrove House Estate.

There are 17 miles of footpaths covering two distinct areas; there is the Old Arboretum, which is an area formally planted to create vistas and avenues of trees – and Silk Wood, which is less formal and has a more natural woodland feel to it.

The planting began in the mid-19th century as part of the Westonbirt House Estate (the house became a girls’ boarding school in 1927) and is now managed by Forestry England.

From Mid-October to Mid-November people flock to Acer Glade to witness the fantastic spectacle of the Japanese Maples changing colour. The exact time to see them at their best changes slightly each year depending on weather conditions before and during the season.

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West Pentire and the Wildflower Fields

West Pentire and the Wildflower Fields


From Newquay Harbour the town has spread inland and along the coastline northwards, but the River Gannel has at least contained the expansion southwards.

On the opposite side of the river is the small and attractive village of Crantock, which because of its access to the nearby beach can become busy at peak times, but the good news for people who enjoy a more natural environment is that the National Trust (NT) has been able to purchase significant parts of the estuary and southern coastline, including the headland at West Pentire.

Whilst many are drawn to the beach at Crantock, some venture a bit further along the minor road to West Pentire where the Bowgie Inn offers some exceptional views from its pub garden and access to an easy wander around the peninsula.

The views take in the Gannel and the headland of Pentire Point East opposite, and it might not come as any great surprise to learn that the mouth of the estuary has another headland on the West Pentire side called Pentire Point West.

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